OS X 10.5.7 nearing beta phase; supports new macs, bug fixes

Despite somewhat less hands-on time that we usually like to have in our first sneak-peeks of developmental Apple software — particularly system updates — we are taking a look under the hood of Mac OS X 10.5.7 which is fast approaching the ‘beta’ phase when it will be seeded to third-party developers for testing & feedback. Interestingly, our examinations turned up not just software dirt, but hints of what’s to come for the iMac, Mac Pro & even Macbook Air.

As the introduction and subject-line suggest, the late-alpha builds of Mac OS X 10.5.7 that Rumors has been able to explore through source reports, “batphone” streams, and limited direct hands-on usage by our Silicon Valley team thus far have all brought us to one conclusion.

Though it does include several changes we’re aware of that should have significant performance benefits…even many of these are actually bug fixes, and in at least one key case, only actually rolls back a slow-down bug which could result in the normally faster 10.5.6 running slower on many early Macintel & low-end “Hackintosh” systems than 10.5.5 or almost any previous build going back to at least 10.5.2(!).

The few performance-related changes that our sources were able to outline for us from the associated reports in Apple’s internal “Radar” system as well as its fully closed change-logging & patch-commit notes….were largely new versions of drivers for existing graphics cards, and modest optimizations for nearly all Intel Core-class processors which mostly focus around new “SSE” vector-processing techniques and code libraries borrowed from essentially finished Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) projects as part of its “Grand Central” optimization effort.

In short, we aren’t predicting any dramatic or even in most cases noticeable performance gains — with some notable exceptions including new recent-model nVIDIA GPU drivers which should quash the outstanding bugs from the mysteriously pulled nVIDIA Graphics Update 2009 package and provide some framerate benefits for those games/applications which utilize the GPUs affected including the current Macbooks’/Macbook Pros’ dual GPU “pseudo-SLI” GeForce 9400M/9600M-GT graphics system and older Intel Macs with GeForce 7300GT or 8800GS cards….

…but rather, we expect 10.5.7 to focus on addressing the increasing number of issues many users seem to be having with 10.5.6, nVIDIA Graphics Update 2009, several recent Security Updates and other system software packages released since the middle of last year when Snow Leopard development kicked into high gear.

While the team that is dedicated to maintaining the OS X 10.5.x codebase (as well as carrying over whatever “completed” Snow Leopard projects may make sense to roll into the last 3-5 point updates remaining before reaching “end state” like 10.3.9 & 10.4.11) is still of significant size, and it handles quite a huge number of bug reports every day….many of the most talented and creative of Apple’s software developers — including some of its most efficient bug-squashers — were moved to the Snow Leopard team quite some time before last summer’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC).

As a result, over time the backlog of bug reports & suggested/submitted patches has slowly grown as the list of known issues in 10.5.6 has also bloated out to a degree unparalleled by nearly any previous build of Mac OS X.

So, while virtually every one of these known bugs is already fixed in last week’s build of 10.5.7 which we were able to view and perform limited benchmarking on via a “batphone” session between our Silicon Valley team and sources working at Infinite Loop….the focus has most definitely been on those bugs so far, and the handful of benchmark applications (notably CineBench, Battlefield 2142, and a custom set of Motion/Aperture stopwatch tests) we ran showed numbers almost identical to 10.5.6 except on the latest Macbooks/Macbook Pros which showed gains directly related to new nVIDIA drivers except for a small apparent boost in overall memory bandwidth that sources chalk up to new support code for the associated nVIDIA-built DDR2-800 memory controller/motherboard chipset.

Thus far, this may not sound like the most exciting update that Apple has shipped for OS X 10.5 “Leopard” or any other system release in recent memory — and it isn’t, at least until looks beyond performance and digs deeper under the proverbial “hood.”

10.5.7’s huge bevy of fixes and updated support code for the recently updated, nVIDIA-based laptop models will be very good news to many users affected by the issues in existing system software….but the really big deal of 10.5.7 isn’t for owners of existing Macs.

Like the recent v2.2.1 iDevice OS firmware release, 10.5.7 hides within it support code & drivers for new hardware — in this case, a “Nehalem” desktop Intel Core i7 processor/chipset based iMac shipping in the coming weeks, “Gainestown” Core i7 Xeon based Mac Pro & Xserve shipping around the end of March (additional details), and the next generation Macbook family (all three models including Air & Pro) which will move up to the mobile i7 architecture when it follows suit this summer….

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